Have you ever had a really difficult customer complaint? Sure, you have. Everyone who has ever worked in a service industry has encountered customers who were upset about something, whether or not their feelings were justified by the circumstances.

Usually this happens when we have somehow failed to meet the customer’s expectations. If the unhappy guest is letting you know there’s a problem, they are giving you an opportunity to provide them with a reason to continue to do business with you. How well you handle customer complaints has a lasting effect on how (or even whether) those customers visit with you in the future—all while sharing the story of their experience with their friends and family.

Because he’d heard that word of mouth is incredibly powerful, a senior executive I once worked with was incredulous that we didn’t automatically offer something of value to every customer who expressed displeasure. My peers and I tried repeatedly to explain that the angry patron may find the most value in the time we spent listening to and acknowledging their concerns, but he still sometimes instructed associates to, “just give him something and make him happy.” Honestly, it’s not necessary to make an offer every time someone complains, and free play should probably be the last line of defense when you do make a compensatory offer.

In the casino industry, a high-value guest who hasn’t won a jackpot in her last few trips is likely to vent (to anyone who will listen) about the losses aggregated over those unfruitful visits. You may even look at the numbers and see that the guest has lost quite a bit more than usual, making you consider giving the guest some free play due to the losses. A customer who complains that he’s never won a promotional giveaway may suggest that he be compensated for that perceived failure of your programs.

There are so many reasons you shouldn’t automatically do this, even if your property’s guidelines say it’s okay. By handing out free play willy-nilly, you are doing things that will potentially be problematic in the future: you are setting the precedent that the player will be compensated for complaining; you are undermining the value of your marketing programs; and you are altering the gaming experience, because losing is part of gambling.

Am I saying you shouldn’t do anything to make the guest feel better? Well, of course not! Perhaps offering simple understanding instead of compensation would be a better fit for the situation. It should go something like this: “Betty, I am so sorry you’ve had such a run of bad luck. I’d love for everyone to win, but we both know that’s not the way it works.” Use facial expressions and body language to let her know you really mean it.

In doing so, you have acknowledged the guest’s disappointment (even though it’s really nobody’s fault) and offered her appropriate compensation for the situation (your sincere apology). Make the complaining guest ask you for a compensatory “gift.” Then, you will understand exactly what the issue is worth to the guest. Often, the guest asks for less than you might have offered.

If she asks for something, have a few creative solutions ready to offer up: tickets to a show you’re having difficulty filling, a trinket or leftover merchandise from a giveaway, delivering a sweet treat where she’s playing. She may really want free play, but there’s another unintended consequence in giving it to her: she is going to tell other players how she complained and got free play, and then others will start to follow suit.


How do I know this? I’ve lived it. Guests who had been the recipients of the senior executive’s “generosity” often returned to player rewards to complain about something else in hopes of receiving more freebies. Players whose hosts had once changed coupons due to a service issue expected that we would always change them after that. Promotion participants whose names we “never called” repeatedly asked for extras because someone once gave in to a request for an extra giveaway item… and friends of theirs started to do the same. Players talk, particularly if they believe they’ve been given special treatment. The result? Players who didn’t receive special treatment (whether that’s what you intended or not) will either feel slighted, come up with a reason to get special treatment of their own, or both.

Altering direct mail coupons or handing out free play that isn’t part of your reinvestment program means that the offers and promotions you’ve given your players won’t carry as much weight. Why? Because they can be changed. Many support the use of personalized offers that appeal to the players’ own interests and play patterns, but if your mail programs aren’t that sophisticated, it’s your job to support the programs as they are. Undermining them in such a buyer’s (player’s) market doesn’t really help anyone but the player, who is already being compensated appropriately for his or her theoretical worth, in most cases.

Whatever you decide to do, make sure you understand the worth of the player in question. Be aware of everything they’ve received, offers they’ve redeemed, offers available to them, the patterns of their play, and how likely your offer is to secure their loyalty. Get to the bottom of their complaint, for sure. Ensure that they remain profitable as well as pleased with your service. Then, everybody wins.